There is one thing about enjoying the wonders of Mother Nature and that is you have to take whatever she decides to offer you in your stride. The southwest monsoon has commenced and rainy days are back in western Peninsula Malaysia. Lightning is the last thing you want when you set off on any birding trip especially one with a foreign guest. Billy is his name and he hails from Ireland. With the weather starting to turn against us, our best bet would be Air Hitam Dalam in mainland Penang. This locality has yet to disappoint even in the gloomiest of weathers. A few mischievous Abbott's Babblers were the first to greet us upon our arrival at the car park.
Billy is no stranger to this land as it is his third visit to Malaysia. In fact, he has been to every continent on Earth to photograph wild birds. Penang is just part of this time's 6-week birding adventure to Southeast Asia. I feel proud that Penang is in his list birding sites. It looks like my home state is starting to gain more recognition among the international birding community.
The Olive-winged Bulbuls performed admirably today and it was much to Billy's delight because this species is new to him. It was about then the first rays of the sun managed to pierce through the rain clouds. And the magic of Air Hitam Dalam began to weave its way into the heart of my foreign guest.
Loud and large, the Stork-billed Kingfisher certainly made its presence felt. This species is always a favourite among foreign birders and it is not difficult to see why.
Most birders and bird photographers alike will have a wish list when they go for a birding vacation. The Mangrove Blue-Flycatcher happens to be in Billy's. And if there is any place where you are almost guaranteed to see this species, it will be Air Hitam Dalam.
The Black-and-red Broadbill teased our camera sensors from the dense foliage of the canopy level. So did the Streak-breasted Woodpecker. Fortunately, we managed a few reasonable shots of the latter. Well, one of us did anyway and it was not me.
When the noon hour was at hand, we decided it was time for lunch. On route to satisfy our hunger, we made a stop at the bee-eater colony in Penanti. At this time of the year, the Blue-throated Bee-eaters will be the star attraction of this modest little birding site. These aerial hunters provided a memorable performance and this species also happens to in Billy's wish list. The overcast sky was a blessing in disguise as we were able to experience the bee-eaters without the harsh lighting of the midday sun.
The arrival of the rain ended our photo session with the bee-eaters. A nearby eatery provided lunch and a place to wait out the rain. When the rain started to ease, we did a little detour for the roosting Barred Eagle-Owl behind the Kulim Hi-Tech Park before heading to Sungai Sedim in Kedah for the afternoon session of birding. The owl was a lifer for Billy. So despite the obstructed view, the detour was still a good call.
When we reached the entrance to Sungai Sedim, it started to pour again. Lugging loads of birding gear along a forest trail in a tropical storm should not be part of any birding tour. Reluctantly, I had to think of a contingency plan and it was back to the swamp forest of Air Hitam Dalam. Unfortunately, the storm followed us all the way there and we had to take shelter under the roof of the public toilet at the car park. It was a cruel twist of fate when a Blue-winged Pitta suddenly made an appearance and foraged at the other end of the car park in the rain. Birding lenses, big or small, are not waterproof. And we had no choice but to enjoy the pitta from our shelter.
When the rain finally went away, so did the Pitta. We moved our car to a strategic position to use it as a hide and hoped for the Pitta to return. But it did not and we had to settle for this Brown Shrike instead. I was a little surprise to record both the Brown and Tiger Shrike at this locality today because they should have undertaken their journey back north by now. Rain is an integral part of tropical Asia and can have devastating effects on your birding plans. I guess we were lucky to still get to enjoy a rewarding one in the end.